by Teresa Neumann

All’s Well House, $14.99, 412 pages

Bianca’s Vineyard is many things: a striking portrait of wartime Italy under the Fascist reign of Benito Mussolini; a poignant story of family, torn apart and brought back together in the decades that spanned the second world war; a love letter to the Tuscan countryside through its downfall and triumph. But beneath the lush descriptions of the Italian wine country and the startling brutality of a gruesome war that left a lasting impression on the entire world, it’s a story about forgiveness and second chances, and true love that prevails.

Based on a true story, Teresa Neumann’s debut novel begins in pre-war Ripa (between Genoa and Florence), in the year 1913. Egisto Bertozzi, the second son of la famiglia Bertozzi, is preparing to leave for America in order to support his family, yet his anarchist ideals have ruined his impending nuptials to his true love, Marietta Tarabella, by his refusal to marry in the church. Preferring instead, to marry in a civil ceremony, Egisto hopes that Marietta will defy her father and agree to marry him outside of the church in order to preserve his pride. Realizing, however, the night before his departure for America that he has all but lost Marietta, his brothers take him out for a night of consolation and celebration at a local tavern. There, he meets Armida Sigali.

The story that follows first takes us to Minnesota, where Egisto and Armida have made a life for themselves and their two children. Wracked with the fear of being alone now that their children are in school, and self-conscious that after more than a decade in America she can’t speak English, Armida’s worst fears about her rushed marriage and her husband’s feelings for her are made real when she discovers a secret letter hidden in Egisto’s desk. Driven to the brink of insanity by the revelation, Armida flees back to Italy, abandoning her husband and children to start a new life, just as the Duce is ushering the country into an era of power and prosperity.

Bianca’s Vineyard, surprisingly, is not as much about the eponymous Bianca, as it is about the complexities and depth of the familial ties that bind, and how Armida’s return to Italy as a woman who divorced her husband and left her children in America to work as nanny to one of the region’s most powerful Fascist leaders, ultimately leads to a family’s rebirth and renewal through the devastation and havoc of world war.

The novel, ultimately, is a beautifully descriptive piece of historical fiction that spans nearly ninety years of one family’s history, focusing on one of the most pivotal moments of the twentieth century. The plot twists and turns with all of the provocative intrigue of family lore, but never fails to delight. Pour a glass of Italian wine, and enjoy.

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